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Intel doubles capacity, drops price in refresh of popular SSD line

Lucas Mearian | March 31, 2011
Solid-State Drive 320 series offers up to 30 per cent drop in price; capacities increased by up to triple that of X25-M drives

The 3-bit-per-cell NAND flash chips were targeted for flash cards, USB drives and MP3 players, but not SSDs, because packing in 3 bits per cell made the media inherently less reliable than 2-bit-per-cell NAND flash.

Three bits per cell requires higher-level management and increases the potential for cell-to-cell electron leakage.

At that time, Intel unintentionally revealed through a leaked slideshow that it was planning on a complete refresh of the X25-M family using its newest lithography technique.

IMFT's 25nm 8GB die, which measures 0.35 by 0.74 in., is made up of many smaller 64Gbit NAND chips. The NAND technology makes it possible to build products using half as many chips as the previous 34nm lithography technology, allowing for smaller, higher-density designs.

For example, a 256GB SSD can be built with 32 of the 8GB NAND flash dies instead of 64 dies; a 32GB smartphone needs just four dies; and a 16GB flash card requires only two.

The change also cuts the overall cost to produce mobile products, which is why Intel was able to reduce its prices on the latest line of SSD 320 products over the X25-M line.

Intel's NAND flash chips are small enough to fit through the hole in the middle of a compact disc, yet they pack more than 10 times the data capacity of a CD, which holds 700MB.

There are inherent problems with shrinking the size of circuitry used in semiconductors, most notably an increase in data error rates from electrons bleeding through ever-thinner silicon walls. That requires the development of more sophisticated error correction code (ECC), which Intel has on its controller.

Unlike with its last SSD product release, the 6Gbit/sec. 510 Series, Intel is sticking with its own controller in the SSD 320 Series.

In the 510 Series, Intel used a controller from Marvell for the first time. The 510 Series is being marketed to PC gamers, media creators, performance-intensive workstation users and any technology enthusiast.

At the time of the 510's release, an Intel spokeswoman explained that third-party controllers are now able to meet its performance standards, whereas in the past they could not.

"So in the future, we'll continue to use third-party controllers," Winslow said, adding, "That doesn't mean Intel won't continue to produce its own controller too."


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